Football Features

“Talk about an underrated player” – Group C’s best performers at Euro 2020 (and its most disappointing)

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 21:51, 21 June 2021

After eight days of action Group C at Euro 2020 has been decided and though we knew the Netherlands would finish top heading into the final matchday there was still plenty to play for this afternoon.

Ukraine and Austria, both level on three points, met in Bucharest with automatic qualification for the knockout phase on the line. Das Team seized that opportunity — Christoph Baumgartner netting in a narrow 1-0 victory — and subsequently joined Oranje in the Round of 16.

Frank de Boer’s men were made to sweat in Amsterdam by European Championship debutants North Macedonia but ultimately registered a 3-0 success. As the dust begins to settle, it’s worth looking back on these past fixtures and pinpoint who has been hot and likewise three equally disappointing players.

HOT: Denzel Dumfries

It goes without saying at every major tournament an individual or two goes from being a relative unknown on the international stage to who everyone is talking about. There’s no question Denzel Dumfries fits that billing this summer. For regular Eredivisie watchers he’s a known quantity. Since joining from Heerenveen in 2017 the Rotterdammer has gone on to not only become PSV Eindhoven’s first choice right-back but their skipper as well. He’d subsequently earn a first Dutch national team cap in a UEFA Nations League A win over Germany and is now seemingly undroppable with the likes of Everton, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich reportedly keeping tabs on him.

His price-tag has undoubtedly increased with each passing game. The opening 45 minutes against Ukraine was a frustrating one for Dumfries who should have given Oranje a half-time lead. He immediately made amends by playing an instrumental role in the Netherlands going 2-0 ahead, but Andriy Shevchenko’s men levelled proceedings against the run of play, however it was Dumfries that got the last laugh by registering the winner five minutes from time. That strike was Dumfries’ first international goal and it wouldn’t be long before he doubled his tally. Following a swift counter, in the next game against Austria, two PSV players combined for Oranje to go 2-0 up: Donyell Malen’s pass to Dumfries put the game to bed.

NOT: Marcel Sabitzer

A quick glance at Austria’s lineups at Euro 2020 so far and you will see a plethora of household names. David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic need no introduction and the same could be said for Marcel Sabitzer whose stock continues to rise at RB Leipzig but we have yet to see that player this summer. Sabitzer completed the full 90 minutes in each of Unsere Burschen’s opening three games and while grabbing an assist in their 3-1 win over North Macedonia he’s averaging 2.3 shots per game without finding the net despite playing in the second-striker role.

HOT: Andriy Yarmolenko

The season just gone is one Andriy Yarmolenko will want to forget. The much-travelled Ukranian forward headed into Euro 2020 after making no fewer than 15 league appearances for West Ham, having missed 13 games through a lack of fitness, and only had one meagre assist to show for it. Joining up with his international teammates has been a tonic as Yarmolenko began Euro 2020 by registering a goal-of-the-tournament contender. It’s likely to not win the coveted prize as Patrik Schick decided to end the contest at Hampden Park a day later.

Although they lost against the Dutch there was enough from Ukraine’s performance to suggest better days lie ahead. It proved to be a correct assumption as Shevchenko’s side picked up all three points in their meeting with North Macedonia, a game that saw Yarmolenko get on the scoresheet as well as registering a first assist at these championships, he couldn’t work his magic against Austria who pipped them to second place in Group C.

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NOT: Ezgjan Alioski

In all honesty not much was expected from North Macedonia who made history by qualifying for Euro 2020 their first-ever major tournament appearance. Before facing Oranje to round off Group C they did manage to score, albeit in losing efforts, against Ukraine and Austria but even saying that anything is possible when ‘David meets Goliath’ and given the season he just had with Leeds United you expected more from Ezgjan Alioski, who did convert a missed penalty against Ukraine, but ended the competition with two yellow cards meaning a one-match suspension for a game North Macedonia will not play.

HOT: Georginio Wijnaldum

Before signing for Liverpool it was reported that Georginio Wijnaldum and then Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino engaged in dialogue. In the end the Dutchman’s decision to link-up with Jürgen Klopp proved to be a masterstroke. He not only improved as a footballer, which the Dutch national team has benefited from, but the former PSV Eindhoven man lifted two major pieces of silverware. On the eve of this championship Pochettino finally got his man with Wijnaldum joining Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent. The powers that be in Paris and the club’s supporters must be loving what they are seeing from Oranje’s captain.

He scored the Netherlands first goal at Euro 2020 before putting in a quiet but effective performance against Austria that would be the precursor to what followed in their first Group C game. North Macedonia had nothing to play for aside from pride but De Boer’s men were not in a charitable mood and ran out 3-0 winners. Wijnaldum helped himself to a second half brace and in the process moved onto 25 goals across 78 appearances for his country. “He’s always on the move and looking for the ball to drop in that area. That’s what makes him so special,” former Dutch international midfielder-turned-pundit Nigel de Jong told ITV.

“Talk about an underrated player, I think Gini is up there with the most underrated players when it comes down to his work ethic and also quality-wise. When they’re missing Van Dijk he’s the next man to step up and being the captain that he is he leads by example.” The partnership he’s forged with Frenkie de Jong could prove to be pivotal if Oranje are to go all the way and win their second European Championship title.

NOT: Oleksandr Zinchenko

It’s only because of his newfound lofty status that you see Champions League finalist Oleksandr Zinchenko in the disappointing column. He never really turned up against the Dutch in Ukraine’s opening game with national team boss Shevchenko deploying him in a defensive midfield role. He’d move a line up in the preceding games against North Macedonia and Austria but again no productive return with him ending the group phase averaging 1 chance created per 90 minutes. More concerning is the fact Zinchenko has been prone to give away possession and if the Eastern European nation qualify for the knockout phase, as one of the four best ranked third-place sides, then he’ll need to rediscover that Manchester City form or they’ll be exiting from the competition.